• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Warren was a member of a group of then-young Southern writers who called themselves "the Agrarians" and "the Fugitives." Included in this group were Donald Davidson, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, John Gould Fletcher, and Stark Young. I wondered what influence, if any, these writers had on Ms. Wright's generation.

"Well, not too much. I invested in studying sort of 'The Letters of Arkansas' on a project I worked on called 'The Lost Roads Project.' I came into contact with some of that then because John Gould Fletcher was for part of the time with that movement. But I've always felt rather negative about the Agrarians as a collective body."

"They were racist, weren't they?"

"Very racist."

"Old South."

"Very. Chauvinist, racist -- all of the isms -- all of the bugaboos of their era. I liked the upstarts more, the ones who broke away."

"Who were the 'upstarts'?"

"Well, Fletcher went to Paris, and by the time he came back, he could no longer be identified with that. He had become something of a middlebrow imagist during that time. When he came back he started the Arkansas Folklore Society, and he wrote a history of Arkansas. So he readopted his native state, but with a more worldly perspective, I think, than he would have had if he had followed the Agrarians' line and stayed in the fold. There are people who identify -- whose work is embedded in a region. I respect that. But there has to be more reason for doing that than its being the definition of who you are and what you have to say -- someone like Vance Randolph."

I asked about Randolph, whose name I did not recognize.

"He was a folklorist, and he did volumes of work. He very deliberately mapped out his territory and determined what it would be when he was at Columbia. And that seems different from clinging to a kind of nomenclature that has a lot of bromidic associations and anachronisms and clichés."

"You're daring," I said to Ms. Wright about her work.

"Only on the page. Otherwise, I'm a total chicken."

"That's all you have to be for a reader. The first book of yours I ever owned was Just Whistle."

"That's a raunchy book."

"You've traveled many roads since the time of Just Whistle."

"Well, I've moved a lot. I've been in Rhode Island now for over 20 years. I lived in California, I lived in Mexico, I lived in New York City, I lived in Atlanta; I lived, as you know, a good many years in Arkansas. Movement changes things because it brings a different field of writers into your view."

"You always read widely, so had you stayed in Arkansas, I doubt you would have remained insular as to what you read."

"I'm not sure I would have read. I was exposed to language poetry when I was in Arkansas, in the last year that I was there. But because then in another year I moved to San Francisco, that stuff was very much in the air, and I started picking my way through it. I don't know that I would have done that if I had stayed in Arkansas."

An aspect of Ms. Wright's poems I like is that she is not reluctant to use words that send the reader to the dictionary.

"That's the word-love. I like them big and small and dirty and clean."

Ms. Wright and her husband, also a poet, have one child, a son. I asked how motherhood affected her writing.

"It changed time a lot for me. It made some things seem more urgent, and maybe that urgency got translated into the writing. You certainly can't live a special life and raise a child. You have to live a regular life. If I hadn't had a child, I think I would have lived a little more edgily. I think I'd probably be circling the drain about now too."

"What will you do differently, now that you have a MacArthur?"

"I was able to negotiate for some time from my university and more time than I would have had on the regular sabbatical track. I have a project and I'm at the beginning of it. I sort of have two projects, but one of them I don't know that you can say I've started. So I don't talk about it. It can go up in talk, you know. I do talk about it a little bit, but I haven't talked about it in print. I feel reserved about it, feel protective of it, right now."

"What's it like," I asked, "to live with another poet?"

"That's been rewarding. It's an important point of conversation. It's not incidental to the day job or the night job or anything else. We have a shared library, with duplicates when they're needed. It's been good for me. It's helped me stay the course, and I think it's helped Forrest too. We've challenged each other in an interesting way. It's been a major thing that we share."

"Do you show each other your work before you show it to anyone else?"

"I showed him something I've been working on for eons. Something I had worked on so long I was afraid I'd killed it. It was a long poem, 28, 29 pages or so. It had taken a long time. I had him read it yesterday. If he had been reading it all along I don't think I would have made any progress on it. So it's usually when we feel like we've done our job that we show each other what we've written."

"Do you talk about your work over dinner?"

"Yes. We talk about the work along with talking about whatever it was we ate, you know, foraging in the refrigerator. We don't talk about it at school, and we don't talk about it when we're both reading. It's wherever there's a lull. Usually a meal is a good time."

"The world of American poets," I said, "seems small. Everybody seems to know everybody, and everybody knows everything about each other."

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from the web

Comments

Sign in to comment